Four dead 'not involved in cult'

Christchurch, New Zealand - Police have ruled out cult involvement in the mysterious death of four Japanese people in a Christchurch house fire.

Detective Will McIvor said religious books and handwritten journals had been found in the house in Puriri Street, Riccarton, and investigators continued to have journals translated from Japanese in the hope of providing clues about the deaths.

He said the religious material was from a mainstream faith and the investigation had "definitely" excluded cult involvement as a factor in the deaths.

Three of the dead were from one family and the fourth was a boarder and former employee of the family's business, which had foundered.

Family of all four had flown from Japan and on Saturday and were shown through the house by detectives.

McIvor said the tour was distressing.

"It was very emotional," he said. "They're hoping to have a private ceremony in Christchurch next week.

"They were to assist us with stuff that we took away, although there was nothing striking."

The dead have been identified as Junichi Tomonaga, 58, his wife, Keiko Tomonaga, 60, his mother, Michiko Tomonaga, 80, and their boarder, Kinuko Hanai, 37.

Police believe all four were alive and uninjured when the fire began and were "certainly likely" to have been aware of it beforehand. They probably died from carbon monoxide poisoning and within minutes of each other.

Police have refused to rule out the possibility that the victims died by either murder-suicide or in a suicide pact.

McIvor said the family members who came out from Japan included Junichi Tomonaga's son and uncle and Hanai's father and brother.